Republicans aim to sidestep another spending meltdown
Trying to avoid another debacle over government spending — this time in an election year — House and Senate Republican leaders are pushing for quick action on annual appropriations bills.
With Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) taking over the Senate Appropriations Committee, members of that panel were scheduled to hold a private meeting Monday to discuss ways to move spending bills quickly to the Senate floor, according to GOP and Democratic aides.
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Shelby and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member on Appropriations, also want to meet with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) later this week to try to hash out a plan for moving the bills, Senate sources said.
“The chairman continues to work with his colleagues and leadership to ensure that the appropriations process can move forward as intended,” said Blair Taylor, Shelby’s spokeswoman.
"We look forward to discussing an appropriations process that ensures the bills adhere to the budget deal, exclude poison pill riders, and they all make it across the finish line,” Schumer added in a statement.
On the House side, GOP leaders are planning a special Republican Conference meeting on Friday to discuss strategy for quickly moving annual spending bills. Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and other top House Republicans want lawmakers to get behind their strategy to approve as many spending bills as quickly as possible and then pass a continuing resolution in early September that will extend past Election Day.
House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) — like Ryan, a lame duck — has already begun talks with Shelby on setting spending levels for each of the individual subcommittees, something that wasn’t done during this fiscal year. The spending targets would be based upon the budget deal that ended the face-off over 2018 government funding.
“There is a lot of talk about the speaker’s race and the next chairman of this or that committee,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who wants to take over the House Appropriations chairmanship next year. “But the fact of the matter is that we still have responsibilities for this Congress."
Aderholt added: “The only way we can be successful this year is to start early and send our bills over to the Senate in order for them to accrue pressure to act. In the end, the Senate will also realize that they too have elections in November and will act.”
Leahy, the committee’s top Democrat, said he and Shelby are committed to "moving away from huge, omnibus appropriations bills."
Yet complicating matters is a move by the Trump administration — in tandem with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who wants to be speaker in the next Congress — to claw back billions of dollars in spending from the 2018 appropriations bills.
President Donald Trump was unhappy with the final $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package, which was the result of months of bipartisan negotiations between party leaders on Capitol Hill, talks in which White House officials participated extensively. Despite that, Trump threatened to veto the omnibus at the last minute, which could have led to another government shutdown. He was talked out of it by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other administration officials who argued that the increase in Pentagon funding was worth the boost in nondefense dollars.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has said a rescissions package would be put forward by the Trump administration in the coming weeks. Republican sources on Capitol Hill suggest there could be more than one rescissions proposal emanating from the White House.
However, McConnell and Shelby having declared that a rescissions package won’t go anywhere in the Senate. And it is not clear that such a proposal would even have the votes to pass the House, as appropriators and moderate Republicans who voted for the omnibus are unlikely to vote to cut spending they just approved.
Many conservative leaders outside Congress just want a return to regular order, something Ryan, McCarthy and McConnell have promised to do. That means adopting a budget resolution and moving as many of the 12 annual appropriations bills as possible through committee and then onto the floor, followed by a House-Senate conference if necessary. While such a process has been promised by party leaders on both sides of the aisle, it hasn’t occurred in years.
“They need to get to a regular order budget. They need to get some appropriation bills through. They do. It’s ridiculous. And it’s an embarrassment they can’t do it. They promised to,” said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. “It’s everything people hate about Washington.”